Certifying as a Google Design Sprint Facilitator

I’ve recently completed the Design Sprint 2.0 Facilitators Masterclass, the most up-to-date and improved version of the Design Sprint developed by AJ&Smart and the original creator Jake Knapp.

The Design sprint is a four-day workshop process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Developed at Google Ventures, and largely credited to Jake Knapp who authored the book “Sprint” in 2016.

In the book Knapp emphasises that he applies design philosophy, thinking, and approaches to solve various organisational challenges such as the launch of new products or features, growth, improvement of internal processes, innovation, and development.

Combining the best practices of Design Thinking, Lean UX, and Agile Knapp created a clear, efficient, rapid, and adaptable framework to reduce risks of innovation, align teams on the same vision, and eventually save money and time.

Design Sprint 2.0

There are a number of changes in the 2.0 version of the design sprint that make it more efficient and flexible, allowing you to achieve the same outcomes in less time.

The Sprint takes 4 days. Originally it was 5. This became possible by improving the general flow with some new elements (User Test Flow), changing the order of exercises (starting with Expert Interviews) and their structure (Mapping the System). This is really helpful for those that deliver sprints to customers, as Friday can be used as a write-up day.

Senior stakeholders are involved for just 2 days. In the first version of the Sprint your ‘Decider’ (CEO, senior executive, director) was required for the entire duration of the Design Sprint. This was a serious bottleneck as often executives weren’t able to clear their schedule. In Design Sprint 2.0 you can leave the last two days to the designers and interviewers and let the CEO and management go. They will receive the report with all the insights afterward.

Expanded organisational focus. The initial version of the Sprint was very much focused on delivery benefits to tech start-ups. However, Design Sprint 2.0 expands this framework making it accessible and relevant to large and small businesses across different sectors, not for profits, government departments, and NGOs.

What next?

I’ve already delivered my first Design Sprint and have supported the delivery of some great remote sessions, while not working in the office. I’m looking forward to sharing more about them in the coming months.

Featured photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash

Running Distributed PIs, ARTs & Teams

Context: I’m writing this blog post during the COVID-19 outbreak. The UK government (along with many governments around the world) have instructed people to work from home where possible. This is unprecedented and has forced many teams to change their way of working over-night.

As I have discussed before, I’m a Certified SAFe Agilst and work with teams and teams of teams to facilitate Scaled Agile delivery. PI Planning is a great way of helping teams to plan and give stakeholders visibility to what the teams have committed to, but what happens when nobody is in the office and everyone is dispersed?

The Podcast

This post was inspired by a really timely podcast. Many of the ideas and insights in this post are inspired by the podcast and the subsequent conversations I’ve had with colleagues and customers about it. I’d recommend giving it a listen if you’re considering running your first dispersed PI events.

DEEP DIVE: Running Remote PIs, ARTs and Teams – SAFe Business Agility Podcast

SAFe Business Agility Podcast

Distributed Vs. Dispersed

Firstly, there is nothing new about doing remote or distributed PI Planning. While SAFe do encourage PI Planning sessions to run with all the participants in the same room, it’s common for teams to be split geographically for a number of reasons and it’s not always possible to bring all the teams together.

In this case a ‘Distributed‘ team usually refers to a group that is split across two locations. This can often be where a company have engineers in Europe or India, for example, and bringing them to the same location can be difficult.

Unlike Distributed teams, ‘Dispersed‘ teams are all in different locations. This is the situation we find ourselves in during the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK.

I’ve tried to compare and contrast some of the differences between Distributed and Dispersed teams and the things that you might need to think about while running a PI event with them.

1. Requires a facilitator in every room1. Requires a facilitator in every comms channel
2. Common for a teams in a different timezone may work late to stay connected
– Consider safe transportation late at night
– Consider food for the team late at night
2. Colleagues in different timezones may work late to stay connected
– Consider other people in their homes
– Consider food times (for families)
3. A technical issues may mean you loose 50% of your team (and you’ll notice)3. A technical issue may mean you loose 1% of your team (and don’t notice)

Up-front Planning

It’s not common in agile teams to advocate from much up-front planning, however, this is going to be the difference between your PI event being good and it being excellent.

As individuals are in different locations, timeszones and potentially in unfamiliar work-patterns, it’s important to try and be flexible around the format of the event and allow people to engage in their own way and at their own time.

These are my thoughts on ways to improve your distributed PI events and help your attendees get the most from (and contribute the most to) the event:

1. Plan your use of technology

Consider carefully your tech stack and what users may need to be able to use it. If everyone is working from home and has a different technology setup, there may be a need to understand what users have at their disposal before you mandate technology that could alienate some of your participants. A helpful list of things to do in advance could be:

  1. Communicate in advance the technology you are going to use
  2. Supply guidance to your teams on how to signup, do you want them to use corporate email addresses to make them easier to identify to administrators? How about using their corporate headshot as their avatar to make them easily recognisable to colleagues?
  3. If participants need to install plugins to make Webex or Zoom work, ensure that they have the time to do so and supply guidance. Some of your colleagues will need a bit of help to do this
  4. Ensure that the you test whatever you pick with a small group, but try to understand if there are any limitations to your chosen platform, if used at scale.

2. Consider adjusting your timings

A PI event has a full agenda that is difficult to fit into two days at the best of times. So think about your timings. If you know that you’ll struggle to retain your participants for a full morning of briefings, consider asking your Product Manager to pre-record their PI vision presentation and get this to your participants to watch in their own time, maybe 48hrs before the event.

Allow a channel for participants to record their questions and use your time together on the first morning to answer those questions, rather than watch the presentation live.

This gap gives the participants the opportunity to ask questions and allows the presenters the opportunity to think through their answers and supply updated material if needed.

Linear schedules may be difficulty for attendees with family and school-age children at home. Try to give suitable breaks and allow people to engage with content in their own time – maybe you’ll choose to leave your retro board live overnight to allow people to come back to it later in the evening after the kids have gone to bed.

3. Create a place to work for every team

Your teams need their own spaces to work, one per-team. They may already have an electronic board, but ensure everyone has access and can see it.

Consider how the teams can chat amongst themselves and how they’ll collaborate in the feature elaboration effort. One thing a team could do is update their leave before the event on a team calendar – helping the Scrum Master to plan for capacity before the event has begun.

While it’s perfectly normal for people to have side-chats at these events, try and think of ways to keep people together where possible and workout how you’ll present your commitments back to the wider group.

Interactions and follow-ups

It’s understandable that many teams aren’t familiar in working this way. The situation could be stressful and all of the participants are likely to have distractions and worries, outside of the event.

It’s important to be mindful of the situation that we find ourselves in and take care no to unintentionally upset or offend people. Written text can often be interpreted differently to how it was first intended and so offer to follow-up with a colleague verbally if you think they have missunderstood.

If you’re struggling to contact a participant, be aware that they may have stepped away to get a coffee, take a call or look after a family member. Don’t bombard them with multiple messages, instead – ask them to contact you on their return. And if you as a participant want to step away, consider adjusting your status to allow others to know you’re not there and when they can expect you back.

Imagine the sorts of status you might see:

  • “Feeding the kids, be back at 1pm”
  • “Just nipped downstairs for a coffee, back in 5”
  • “On a call with a customer, trying to get some clarity”
  • “Taking the dog for a walk, be back soon!”

Delivery starts… soon!

Playback at a PI planning is very visual – it may take some time to produce the sorts of artefacts needed to get teams started and you might need to give a couple of days to people to get copies of all the agreed commitments.

Think about what might aid you in pulling this together. Should the Scrum Masters be sharing time-stamped screenshots of their Scrum boards at each scrum-of-scrums? Would this help give someone a head-start at putting a quick powerpoint together to aid playback? Knowing that this would be needed, could a deck be created before the event, with gaps for each teams boards and objectives to slot in?

Whatever you do, its important to not rush the start of the delivery cadence, until you’re confident that all participants have a clear set of objectives and know what they are doing.

Be agile and keep learning

Getting through your first dispersed PI event will be an incredible learning curve. Accept that not everything is going to be perfect and find ways to capture feedback and look for creative ways to achieve the outcomes you need, even if you have to do them very differently.

We might be working like this for some time to come, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice and improve your skills at delivering PI events in this way!

Becoming a SAFe Agilist

I had a great opportunity recently to attend the Leading SAFe course, led by Dan and Phil at Add Agility.

Here are some of my thoughts about the two-day course, where attendees gain the knowledge necessary to lead a Lean-Agile enterprise by leveraging the Scaled Agile Framework® (SAFe®) and its underlying principles derived from Lean, systems thinking, Agile development, product development flow, and DevOps.

I have been working in and leading agile teams for a number of years, but in more recent months I’ve worked with customers that have decided to adopt SAFe as their framework of choice for conducting multi-team planning.

The course outline states:

Participants in the class gain insights into mastering Business Agility in order to thrive in the competitive market. They discuss how to establish team and technical agility and organise and re-organize around the flow of value. They also learn and practice the skills for supporting and executing PI Planning events and coordinating multiple Agile Release Trains (ARTs). Participants in the class explore the importance of adopting a customer-centric mindset and design thinking approach to agile product delivery. Learners also develop an understanding for implementing a Lean Portfolio Management function in their enterprise.


Things I found:

  • The course is full on. There is a lot of material to cover (over 400 slides in 2 days) and so make sure you have coffee on tap!
  • A lot of the course content and principals come from other methodologies. If you have a good grounding in Scrum, XP, Lean etc you’ll do well.
  • The course seems to be traditionally based around synchronising releases. I think of this like how it must have been to release software versions onto CD-ROMs. If you ‘missed the train’ your feature wasn’t going to customers until they bough the next CD. SAFe have clearly tried to leverage DevOps and push towards more regular releases
  • Attending the course prepares individuals to take the exam and become a certified SAFe® Agilist (SA) – but not all the content is covered in the course. You should prepare to do some home study in order to complete the exam successfully.

Would I recommend it? Yes. If you’re interested in adding some governance around how you do agile at scale, this course could be really beneficial to you.

BA Managers Forum: Tools and Techniques Triage – Technique Matrix

BAMF events are held twice a year, with the agenda for the day being set by those who regularly attend. The format of events are typically a mix of presentations, workshops and a networking lunch. Events are supported and sponsored by the staff of the BA training and consultancy company – Assist Knowledge Development www.assistkd.com

The November event saw 150 BA Practice leaders gather to attend four workshops and swap notes on BA best practice. 

Ayo James and I led two 90 minute workshops of about 65 practitioners per session.

The workshops were based on a triaging technique I created, based on the BCS book 72 Business Analysis Techniques and updated to reflect the latest addition of the book “99 Business Analyst Techniques”.

The documents and artefacts for the workshop can be found below:

99 BA Techniques [Slides]PDFDownload here
99 BA Technique [Triage/Importance Matrix]PDFDownload here
99 BA Techniques [Triage Spreadsheet]XLSXDownload here
99 BA Techniques [Mailmerge Labels]DOCDownload here

I have had fantastic feedback from BAs all over the country about the usage of the technique and a number of BAs have reached out to me to tell me that they have translated the technique into different languages, for use with their colleagues around Europe.

Going beyond ‘what success looks like’

#BASummit14: I was lucky enough to be asked to take part in this years BA Summit by Penny Pullan of Making Projects Work Ltd.

To hear my talk on this topic you check out my SoundCloud.

Over the past couple of years I have seen a growing trend in BAs and product teams striving to define what ‘success looks like’. It’s comes from a desire within the business to understand how we’ll know when we’ve achieved what we set out to do and what the world will look like at the finish line.

I think it’s worth recognising that there are probably a collection of terms out there that describe similar things here. You may call the, Critical Success Factors in your organisation and have associated KPIs.

If you’re working in a Scrum team you may refer to theses as the Definition of Done, a series of criteria or success factors that must be met in order for something to be considered as completed, as done.

The closest I could find in the BABOK about measuring success was in chapter 6.3 Specify and Model Requirements [1]:

The activity of analysing expressed stakeholder desires and/or the current state of the organization using a combination of textual statements, matrices, diagrams and formal models

I’m a real advocate of this approach and have found it resonates well with the product team I sit in, as together we defining a testable state in which to measure if we have achieved our intended goal. This is similar to the team’s approach in writing software, where they will write tests that fail, prior to writing a line of code. They then write software that passes the tests that were defined. Once all the tests pass the project is finished.

However, too often I think BA’s try and define success far too late in a projects life cycle and as a result, miss out on being able to show real business value early in the process.

Lean Statup

Many of you may have heard of Eric Ries and Lean Startup. You may have discredited it as applying to your organisation, as you’re not a startup, but I believe that everyone can use Lean Startup principles in their work, especially business analysts.

Eric discusses in his book, The Lean Startup, a new approach to testing hypothesis to help innovation. I believe we can use this same approach when identifying the impact of problems we uncover in our projects, whether it is a bug, an inefficient process or a missed deadline. And using the same principles we can continual measure for the improvements made as we get to work on tackling those issues.

Measuring failure, the “as is” state

So before we can measure what success looks like I encourage people to re-frame the problem. I ask them what failure looks like, often to their surprise. What I mean is, if we did nothing to resolve this issue what would the cost or impact top the business be. This may cause them to go and collect some information in order to answer this, but chances are they have a good idea and can articulate it.

This is a great place to start and will have many other benefits that can feed your product vision, and even help with ROI calculations further down the line.

Once you understand the problem or opportunity, you can start to consider solutions for achieving your goals, but how will we know that we’ve actually been successful?
If you work for a company that sells products online it may be easy for you to measure success. If you sell more items or increase your profit on what you sell, you’ve clearly been successful and perhaps these are some of the most obvious ways of measuring success and may not require models or equations to prove it.

However, if your project doesn’t have an obvious revenue stream to measure, you may need to be a little more creative with what you measure – and this I think, is where Business Analyst can really take a lead.

Have you ever considered the impact your project may have on customer satisfaction? Do you know what your current customer satisfaction score is and would you know how to measure it? Do you know where you rank amongst competitors, especially the ones that you are chasing for market share? I’m willing to bet someone in your organisation already knows the answer to all of those questions!

Do you know how long a manual process takes to run in your organisation? If you could identify improvements then you could calculate an efficiency saving to the business in terms of employee cost or an increase in productivity per employee.

Now measurement isn’t just something that we do at the end of projects. I often hear of the Definition of Done or the definition of what success looks like as being the finish line of a race that once crossed, means the project is closed. While this is true, I sort of dislike the analogy as it suggests it’s the last thing that happens in a project. I believe measuring success is a continuous process. if the definition of what success looks like is our finish line we measure at every step along the race course asking the question, have we crossed the line? Have we improved revenue, have we improved customer satisfaction? For teams that work on incremental delivery strategies, this data is crucial in checking that the team are going in the right direction and if they’re not this data will help support the need for changing direction or pivoting. This in itself is ensuring project success by getting early visibility of failure and risks.

Change, measure, change, measure…

So I’ve explained how I think measuring should take place at every step of the journey and how “what success looks like” is the finish line, the goal we’re aiming for. But in reality the improvements and gains that we see from the success of our projects don’t end once we cross that finish line. If you’ve managed to see an increase of 2% in sales as a result of your project, that’s for life. The business will continue to see that additional value month on month and as a BA I think it’s important that we shout about success and recognise the value that we as BA’s and the teams we support add to the organisation we live in. Everyone likes to have evidence they can show their boss that the project they’ve delivered was successful… And if it over achieved, how pleased will you be that you were tracking the data from day 1!


So to conclude I want to just recap on what I’ve said and recommend some further reading:

  1. Measuring success is linked right back to your initial requirements and stakeholder desires. You’re helping your team prove that they’ve been met with real data
  2. Measuring success is a continuous process, measuring it at the end is too late… you could be miles off and have not known
  3. Measuring success continuously reduces risk and allows for innovation and agility
  4. Evidence of success is the best reward of all, and will really help you as a BA
How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business by Douglas Hubbard

For more on creative measuring check out Douglas Hubbard’s book.

[1] 2009. “IIBA BABOK V2.” [online]. iiba.org/babok

Agile Estimating: What’s the point(s)?

Recently I gave a presentation on Agile Estimation, as based on some of the material cover in the course I attended. While I can not take credit for the materials, or the activities, I was keen to write about them as I believe my own perspective could be of benefit to others who find themselves in a similar situation.

Estimation is something that every team does, but approaches vary wildly. Commonly developers will estimate in hours based on their feel for how long a task or activity will take. While this is not terrible the individual doing the estimating makes a number of assumptions about their approach, their experiences of similar tasks, their confidence in finding a solution, the risk involved, etc. However, what if the person that has done the estimate isn’t the person who will complete the task? What if they aren’t aware of the assumptions made and are not able to understand how the estimate was so low or high?

In the session I asked the teams to estimate the distance from our office to Paris. Instantly they started working on understanding the distance, what roads they would need to take, a ferry or a train and if they would need to sleep on the way. Within a very small variance the teams were pretty consistent in the distance it was from our office to Paris. However, when they started to estimate the time required, based on their distance estimate, the hours varied based on speed assumptions, accounting for traffic and other variables.

What I was trying to show the team is that most of us are good at judging the complexity of a task. They were all good at determining the distance, the route and even the car they’d take and those that had driven the route before knew more confidently what the number of miles required to drive.

When teams decouple complexity estimates from duration estimates they are usually more accurate. Even for the guys that had driven to Paris before, the number of miles required to drive was not smaller in any way, the size or complexity of the task didn’t change for them.

Mike Cohn teaches that we should

Estimate size and derive duration

Mike Cohn

You see duration or velocity is something that a team understands best through practice. Once teams get into a rhythm or cadence they naturally start working more effectively. This will improve the speed that they are working at and the number of tasks that they can complete.

By estimating as a team (or at least in pairs) developers will at least get some peer input into if their estimates to help them check they are in the right sort of range. And through conversation and repeated estimates the teams should see an improved confidence in their estimate ranges.

Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn

For more on Agile Estimating & Planning check out Mike Cohn’s book. A must read for anyone who is moving into planning and managing agile projects for the first time. Mike packs the book full of helpful lessons learnt from over 20 years in the field.

Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)

Last month I attended a fantastic course to become a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO) with the legendary Mike Cohn.

What are Product Owners?

To quote the Scrum Alliance:

“Certified Scrum Product Owners® have been taught the Scrum terminology, practices, and principles that enable them to fulfill the role of Product Owner on a Scrum team. CSPOs are typically the individuals who are closest to the “business side” of the project. They are charged by the organization to “get the product out” and are expected to do the best possible job of satisfying all the stakeholders. CSPOs maintain the product backlog and ensure that everyone knows the priorities.”

The course covered

  • Overview of Scrum
    • Scrum is empirical
    • The Scrum project community
  • Roles and Responsibilities
    • Team / ScrumMaster / Product Owner
    • Your role in the four Scrum meetings
    • Things that are not your job
  • Chartering the Project
    • Creating an “Igniting Purpose”
    • Five techniques
  • Estimating
    • Estimating the size of work
    • Planning Poker®
  • The Product Backlog
    • Emergent requirements
    • User stories on the product backlog
    • The product backlog iceberg
    • User stories in a formal contract
  • Sprints
    • What is potentially shippable?
    • Changes during the sprint
    • Sustainable pace & over commitment
    • Abnormal termination
  • Tracking Progress
    • Burndown charts
    • Taskboards
  • Prioritising
    • The proper level for prioritizing
    • Four factors to consider
    • Kano analysis
    • Theme screening and scoring
    • Relative weighting
  • Release Planning
    • Extrapolating end dates
    • Fixed-scope and fixed-price projects
  • Scaling the Product Owner
    • Sharing one product backlog
    • Visualizing a large product backlog
    • The scrum of scrums meeting
    • The chief product owner


I loved the course and would highly recommend it. I particularly found the session on Prioritisation one of the most valuable with the section on Kano Analysis being used in my recent presentation. I’ve also taken what I learnt in the Estimating session and delivered something internally with colleagues at Sigma to help the whole team to estimate better.

Developing an MVP that your users will love

Last week I was lucky enough to present again at Camp Digital, a two-day event run by Sigma UK full of inspirational seminars and workshops discussing user experience, exploring key trends in our industry and connecting people in our community.

It’s the second year that I’ve been invited to speak, after my presentation last year on Rapid Prototyping.


Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a key lean startup concept popularised by Eric Ries to maximise validated learning for the least amount of effort expended. No-longer just a concept used in the lean startup world, defining MVPs has become a popular product development strategy for agile teams around the world. But what’s the impact of constantly focusing on delivering the ‘minimum’ and do your users ever truly love your product as a result.

In this session Jamie will look at how your team can develop an MVP that both meets your business requirements and keeps your users coming back for more.


Sigma Camp Digital 3D Shadows
Camp Digital – Manchester, UK Camp Digital returns as a two-day programme of inspirational seminars and workshops discussing user experience, exploring key trends in our industry and connecting people in our community.

Why not check out some more presentations and videos here?

Kanban: Optimising for predictability – presentation

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be presenting at a ‘Lightning Lunch’ at Sigma UK on Kanban and how you can optimise the flow of tiny tasks (stories) to make predictable deliverables. This presentation is based on a blog post I wrote some time ago on the same subject.

I’m currently working on a very large Scrum programme that uses a board very similar to a Kanban board, however, we’re not enforcing WIP limits and we only ship things once a sprint. While this in itself feels very fast and very agile to some, it’s not without risks and sometimes feels a little ‘big bang’ release due to the amount of code that is getting delivered in a single sprint. This got me thinking about the continuous test and deployment cycles within Kanban teams as a potential enhancement to our current process.

Kanban doesn’t pretend to solve the problems, but it does allow teams to focus on continuous delivery and continuous improvement. It encourages teams to work as a multi-disciplinary unit rather than as a collection of silos and functions.

I should say that I have only ever done this ‘agency-side’ and as a result commercial constraints sometimes limit our ability to apply too aggressive WIP limits. I’d be really interested in hearing from anyone who has experience of running Kanban projects for multiple customers within a software/design agency. I’m sure there is some additional tweeks to help the implementation.

Prototyping your processes diagrams

This week I heard a fantastic podcast over at TheBACoach.com about writing high value user stories through structured conversations. In it Ellen Gottesdiener and Mary Gorman, authors of Discover to Deliver, suggested collaboratively working on process diagrams with your customers. In fact, they suggested encouraging stakeholders to break the diagrams!

The idea got me pretty excited about a project I’m currently working on and some workshops I had coming up. Although I’m pretty confident at diagramming as a requirements specification technique and have studied UML, BPMN and database modelling techniques, I rarely use them for elicitation purposes. And I have to say, however confident I am with the practice, I’m always worried that a stakeholder will spot the bit I’ve missed or will mention an edge-case that I didn’t identify. But Ellen and Mary were suggesting a completely different approach – hold your hands up and say it’s not finished, that it needs some polish and it needs input to be completed and allow your stakeholders to roll their sleeves up and participate in the drawing of your process diagrams.

Something similar to the finished product. Basic, bare even, but full of meaning to the team who helped craft it.

So that’s exactly what I did, I thought back to some of my experiences of prototyping wireframes and some of the lessons learnt are very transferable. Mainly, if the prototype looks polished stakeholders will think it’s finished (and will often be far more critical). So, we used paper and pens to draw out a basic process flow, there were no swimlanes or beautiful straight lines that a tool would give you, but it was there, a vehicle for some structured conversation.

I put it on the table with some other pens and watched as the team looked at it, quite shocked at how bare it was (probably questioning my fee…) but straight away people started drawing on the missing elements. And then they took it further, “this bit is only happens if X is true” and “We want to be able to delay a step, in fact we’d like to be able to delay two of the steps.”

We were prototyping a process flow, well they were and I was taking the notes from all the business logic and constraints that were being discussed. And because I wasn’t holding the pen and doing all the work I was able to sit back and facilitate the discussion and prototyping, dipping into the 7 Product Dimensions [pdf], that I also learnt about on the podcast, ensuring that we had covered where the ‘data’ was coming from for an aspect of the diagram or what the ‘control’ was around another.

Now I was lucky, the team I was working with are pretty technical. In fact they are a mix of subject matter experts and other analysts, which made the job a bit easier. But even if your team aren’t expert diagram drawers, with your help they’ll be able to articulate enough to help you draw something that they can validate. Constantly ask questions like:

  • Is this right?
  • Is there anything that happens after this step?
  • Is there anything missing that you can see?

Working with your stakeholders in this way will help them to feel empowered in the delivery of your project, it helps develop rapport between the team and will pay dividends over the lifetime of the project.